This Road Is Mostly Inside You

The Road to Emmaus is all around us.
There is no set formal path. No particular interstate highway or country lane.
The Road to Emmaus just is, stretching out in every direction.
North. South. East. And west.
We journey upon it each day. Whether we realize it or not. Whether or not we intend to do so. Every paved mile that we drive is upon the Road to Emmaus. Each sidewalk step that we take is upon the Road to Emmaus.
Left, right, left.
Through the woods.
Across a field.
Upstairs and down.
The Road to Emmaus is, consciously or not, part of the journey to every destination we consciously try to reach.
For our entire life.
Forward, or backward, day by day.
Curiously, however, we often fail to sense its presence. There are so many distractions along the way. One moment we are deep in contemplative prayer and the next we suddenly find ourselves in the middle of life’s often tumultuous cacophony of noises.
We become like the two disciples described in the Gospel of Luke, walking toward Emmaus and so busy talking about the crucifixion of Jesus and rumors of his resurrection that they fail to see that he is walking right there beside them.
The experience is not unlike walking out from a forest of wondrous peace onto the Las Vegas strip.
But even Vegas is part of the Road to Emmaus.
The Road to Emmaus is everywhere—no exceptions.
And Jesus is there—no exceptions.
Jesus is there, waiting for us to recognize him.
Waiting for us to recognize him in our hearts.
To recognize him in our souls.
Recognize him in each other when we walk his footsteps into the world.
Every day and every step we take hold such promise.
Every day and every step offer us the chance to make the dreams that Jesus has for us come true in this world that so desperately needs those dreams to come true.
But how?
Sometimes, we just need to pull over into a spiritual rest stop and let the tumultuous cacophony of the world’s traffic of distractions wash over us and away.
Often, we most readily recognize the Road to Emmaus—and who journeys upon it by our side—only when we stop for a moment to look around and feel the scenery of our soul and the sunrise of our hearts burning within us.
That is when Jesus is able to “break bread” with us, even if there is not a crumb or a crust or a loaf in sight.
Quite possibly, however, another person is by your side, walking the same steps on the Road to Emmaus. In close proximity physically, but also close in the spirit of friendship or love. So close that it is as if the two of you are one single loaf of bread. In opening up your hearts to each other—in breaking this human bread—Jesus is able to reveal his presence among you in a way that is impossibly palpable.
And there is true communion.
Because the Road to Emmaus is mostly inside you.

Happy Easter?

 

Happy Easter?

How happy can Easter really be for someone who has lost a loved one?
How happy was the first Easter for Thomas? He had just lost a loved one and Easter was one of the saddest days of his life.

While his best friends were giddy with astonished joy as they related the story of Jesus appearing to them in the upper room, Thomas was wrapped in sorrow.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus had told the disciples before showing them his wounds.
Imagine their joy at spending time with the resurrected Jesus.

But Thomas had not been with them. He’d missed out and Thomas was so unhappy that he went down in history as Doubting Thomas.
“We have seen the Lord,” his fellow disciples had told him, their faces undoubtedly split wide open by huge smiles, their eyes alight and sparkling with happiness—just as ours might be at the end of an Easter morning service, wishing happy Easter to all we see.
But how happy could Easter have possibly been to Thomas, who had lost Jesus to the hammer and nails of the crucifixion?
“Happy Easter” was just two words that meant nothing to him.
Or, worse, they rubbed salt in his wounds of sorrow.
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe,” Thomas had replied.
I might have spoken those same words if I had been standing in Thomas’ shoes.
But Jesus appeared again and this time Thomas was there. A week later, Jesus gave Thomas a chance to touch his wounds and “Happy Easter” suddenly became two words that meant everything to him.
Thomas joined his friends as resurrection witnesses, trying to convince others that Jesus had risen, that “Happy Easter” could pour its meaning into the deepest of our earthly sorrows—even into the place deep inside our heart where we mourn the loss of someone we love most dearly.
Easter matters because resurrection is promised to us all. Easter would indeed be a hollow mockery to our human hearts if it were just something experienced by Jesus alone.
If Easter was just a Jesus event it would be pointless. God rose from the dead? Big deal. But Easter is not just a Jesus event. Easter is a you and me event. Easter is an event our departed loved ones have already experienced for themselves. Jesus said so. Some day, we shall join them. Jesus said so.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you may also be where I am,” Jesus tells us in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John.
There are days and nights and weeks and months when our tears of sorrow will make it hard for us to read those words but there are no tears on Earth that can wash the promise of those words away.
Can I prove it? Probably not. But doesn’t the world—don’t you and I—desperately need something far more wondrous than anything I can prove? That is precisely what God’s love has given us. But it is okay to doubt it.
If we doubt then we are in good company. We are locked in that upper room in all of our sorrow with the disciples. And Jesus is coming to touch the mark of our deep wounds. Jesus doesn’t doubt our wounds. He knows we all have them. That is why he is on the way.

Bombers Take Off From Golgotha: The Conclusion

Poems for Easter by Ken Woodley

WINTERS

I walk across a field to where the frost

has painted shattered glass on the ground.

Summer must have looked in the mirror,

seen autumn,

and the reflection broke.

Even the clown trees cry,

dropping their circus leaves.

Soon the whole world will lie dead,

quiet as cotton, and cold.

There is an attic smell in the air.

I wonder if this is how our own winter has been born.

Have we forgotten spring?

I kneel now, touching an ice-covered blade.

The frost melts and turns into dew.

My shadow feels the silent, insistent barking of the sun.

THE STORM

I listen to my storm.

There are no words anymore,

no voice like winter thunder,

no lightning in my dreams.

It has rained for days and the only sound is the river

pulling at the roots of trees,

covering the tracks of animals that came to the bank for food

and the footprints of hunters who followed them.

Black birds look like punctuation marks

as they scrape their wings against the clouds

in search of a sentence the wind rearranged and then blew away

and I wonder about the missing words

and who wrote them.

The river, tumbling over itself,

sounds like sand being brushed off the sky

and I pray for this meaning to make sense.

A soft, distant voice echoes the unspoken

and I look up in time to see the small dark dot of a bird

calling me to follow

just before it disappears,

a final period erased

before the end could be written.

I cry uncontrollably, unashamed of this joyful sorrow.

Tomorrow the river may flood.

So might I.

SECRET AGENT

I shadow myself

in the long puddles from yesterday’s tears.

Bedouin clouds cross their blue desert;

the city loses its grip and the sand takes over,

seagulls singing as if they are deaf.

I will leave no tracks on the beach.

The wind and tide are my safe house.

I have come all this way to watch waves

defect from the sea.

They look like spies coming over from the other side,

breaking cover at the last possible moment,

spreading their secrets on this countertop coast.

I cup a foam cipher in my hands

but it soon disappears

and I am left decoding palms,

my own wrinkles and veins.

Translating myself into this new language.

SURROUNDED

The sentry noticed something peculiar:

he was surrounded.

Something must have crept up on him during the night.

He dropped to his belly

and wriggled around a large boulder

to see what it was.

He waited fifteen minutes and didn’t see anything.

When members of his platoon woke up

and were not shot as they stood urinating on the ground

the sentry decided he must have been

imagining things.

Still, something seemed strange.

He felt completely surrounded.

It was unearthly.

It was the trees, he told himself later.

Yes, it’s the trees, and the grass

and the sky.

They’re not fighting.

They’re not at war.

And then he wondered:

Can I surrender to peace?

CHRIST TIDE

A mirage appears in the desert:

a single dark fin cutting through the dunes of sea-like sand,

rippling straight toward the man

who continues walking over the motionless waves;

a shark torpedoing—as if launched by the earth itself—

at the path those steps are taking,

the man spreading his arms wide and cross-like

in greeting or resignation

to meet the unseen jaws

even as a school of porpoise—

their own finned backs breaking the surface of our disbelief—

swim toward his resurrection,

the heavy steel hooks of fishermen

unable to stop them.

EASTER

If I could

I would see the sun making sherbet in the sky

and children running along the edge of their lives,

wishing for bowls and spoons,

sand kicking up behind their heels like bullets just missing.

Each second would be a museum

as I look into their eyes

and see Ulysses in the wooden horse,

feel Africa touching Brazil.

Camels sip scotch through straws now,

trying to forget their humps,

but a whippoorwill calls its own name into the twilight

and leaves murmur, quietly praying.

A dream kicks the wall of its womb.

The sky bends.

I feel pregnant with myself.

And then it happens:

A herd of zebra lopes past me,

looking for the mountains of Peru.

“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

—John 14: 20

Bombers Take Off From Golgotha, continued

Poems For Holy Week by Ken Woodley

AFTER THE BOMB
The wind exterminates annihilation,

checks its pulse with a dried leaf or two

and climbs a hill behind the barn.

The barbed wire doesn’t stop it.

The cows couldn’t chew it.

The wind plays the sound of crickets eating silence

and there is something else

along the wide black hearth,

tugging back at last syllables,

inventing the new language;

sheep will clothe themselves.

The wind stretches,

yawns and lifts a feather for examination,

blowing it against a sky

that cannot keep it.

The wind blows it north for the summer,

south for the winter,

looking for a season that fits.

The wind blows inside out,

climbs a mountain and falls off.

The hurricane bends everything to its knees.

FUTILE GESTURE
I

raise my hand

to keep the sun

out

of

my

eyes,

not realizing

that I am

waving good-bye.

THE CANNIBALS
There are no stars,

no moon,

just hearts beating in the darkness.

Somewhere

twigs snap underfoot.

Wild beasts scream their way

into human silence

and hide among the eaves, waiting.

The armies sit in darkness,

looking for some braille

to tell them this is just

a really black night.

Soldiers smell the enemy coming.

They feel the enemy touching,

the enemy panting,

muscles straining.

The heartbeats quicken

and sound like Morse code,

somebody sending signals

from behind enemy lines.

The arms of the enemy encase them.

The soldiers bite back.

The pain is wet and hot.

Their hearts suddenly sound

like a pantomime.

They taste their own body,

their own blood,

wondering whose skin it is

they’re wearing,

who they used to be.

THE SERPENT (For Judas)

I shed

my skin,

looking

for someone

else,

but keep crawling

on my belly anyway,

tempting myself

to believe

there could be something worse

than turning yourself

inside out

and finding the end

of

paradise.

IN THE CATACOMBS (For Mary Magdalene)
My hands find the ghosts of wind and water

which haunt the world with their smoothness.

Such soft fossils in the stone;

my fingers feel like they are touching themselves.

I reach for an indentation and find my broken-mirror reflection.

I pick up one of my eyes along with some of the ceiling.

They become my nose and a piece of lip.

My hair and a look of pain

stick in my fingers and I hurt and bleed.

I am just as much a grave in this room as I am me.
But I remember opening my eyes for the first time.

Buildings were not broken by the colors.

Neither were people.

Children ran through fields with their parents

who were also children,

picking flowers that did not burn them.

We spoke sky.

We spoke clouds.

Our accent came from everywhere

and we sang songs that made the elephants dance.

The world grew round and we rolled it to each other.

Nothing growled.

Everything kept growing.
I remember the sound of the first cannons.

It’s mice in the attic, we said, eating cheese.

We’ll get traps when we go to town in the morning.
I remember footprints in the snow.

I remember following.

It seemed like a prayer.

WAITING ON THE FALL-OUT
On the edge of everything

I catch a taxi to the harbor

where the boats lay still

and the gulls don’t speak.

Even the pier

holds tightly to its splinters,

giving nothing away

but my own drumbeat steps

as the mist tries me on for size.

I sit along the end of this half-bridge

and wait for anything else,

hoping the stars

rule out the total winter.
A ricochet of light

and one has become like us.

There is no splashing,

only ripples

and the echo of my own slow dripping.

I stop remembering now,

only listen to the resonance.

Touch me.

Lose this definition.

A Backstage Pass To God

Backstage. Up close and personal.

Being a journalist granted me access to “behind the curtain” experiences I still treasure.

I sat a few feet from Gene Drucker—the world-renowned violinist who has won a bushel of Grammy Awards with the Emerson Quartet—as he rehearsed for the Hampden-Sydney Music Festival.
I was in the Penske pits at Richmond International Raceway during testing and got a true sense of the loud, roaring power and speed—along with the inherent exhilaration and danger—of Indy Car open-wheel racing.

At spring training in Lakeland Florida, it was just me and Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson in his clubhouse office talking baseball. Then I was leaning on the batting cage with the Detroit Tigers during batting practice before finding myself sitting next to my childhood hero, Hall of Famer Al Kaline, on a sofa in the players’ lounge where we talked about his storied career.

No press pass on Earth, however, could have gotten me beyond the veil of a Jewish temple during Jesus’ lifetime and inside the Holy of Holies—the “backstage” place where God literally dwelled, according to Jewish beliefs. Only the High Priest was permitted go beyond the thick curtain that separated God from Man. Anyone else would die.

That all changed with the crucifixion of Jesus.

“Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment,” the Gospel of Matthew tells us, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”

Humanity was given an all-access backstage pass that continues to this day.

Jesus teaches that there is no curtain, no wall, no veil, no law that can separate us, as children of God, from the God who loves us. For each of us, it is a uniquely personal journey of deepening intimacy with God, and with Christ.

As Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”

The only thing that can keep us out in the audience, hoping to catch a glimpse of God’s love, is if we refuse to leave our seats, if we dare not go backstage into the clubhouse or the pits.

A few hours after I typed the words you’ve just read I experienced one of those coincidences that can seem like no big deal except to the person who experienced what, for them, feels like a definite “God-incidence.”

My wife and I were listening to the first album by Christian rockers Jars Of Clay, released in 1995. I usually turn the CD player off after the final track, “Blind.” This time, as Kim and I played backgammon and talked, I left the CD player on. Suddenly, from the silence, came music we’d never heard before—a “hidden song” not listed on the CD, followed by a 20-plus minute recording of the studio session where string and woodwind instruments were added to “Blind.” We could hear conversations in the studio. It was like being there with the band as the album was being recorded.

After 22 years of listening to the CD without hearing any of those voices and notes, we unexpectedly found ourselves behind a curtain that had been open and waiting for us all the time. The moment uncannily illustrated what I’d been writing about just a few hours earlier. It was impossible not to feel the message of grace.

God’s love is waiting for us in the back stage of our heart, which is sometimes the hardest place to find. The door is open. Jesus is holding it wide. No barriers remain, but ourselves.

The song is never over.

Unless we refuse to sing.